Movie Review: Gruesome deaths and crop failures, “The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw”

There was this colony of Church of Ireland folk, sort of Irish Amish, eschewing the modern world in dress and farming methods, who migrated to a remote corner of the Canadian northwest back in the 19th century.

They got along well enough until 1956, when an eclipse passed over them, their crops started failing and people started dying. “Cursed,” they thought. Agatha Earnshaw, a “heretic” among them, her crops continued to thrive. Agatha had also secretly given birth.

She is shunned, so keeping the child a secret isn’t a problem. But seventeen years later young Audrey has grown up to be the sort of teen that transfixes men who see her. And she is determined that men see her, just not for the reasons you might expect.

“The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw” is a dark and somewhat pointless Canadian witchcraft thriller. I use the identifier “thriller” more out of a need to categorize what we see in the movie than as an accurate description of what happens.

There’s violence and intimidation. But there’s no suspense, no one to root for. And no slow-withering or firearm-sudden death touches the heart with either compassion or fear.

Writer-director Thomas Robert Lee’s crafted a greyish period piece set in 1973, and a world where farming is primitive and Irish accents endure after a century of settlement.

Religious people curse like Samuel L. Jackson, and a the girl, Audrey (Jessica Reynolds) eagerly participates in the blood rituals of her separate community of women, hungry for the chance to avenge the wrongs the starving locals have done to mother Agatha (Catherine Walker).

“I want to help,” she tells mom after yet another confrontation with the men of the larger community. Her goal? “Make him regret it.”

But mother’s gone to great pains to keep Audrey out of their sight and knowledge, locking her in covered crates for wagon journeys, never letting her step out when strangers knock at their door.

“He’s a villain,” she hisses to her child. “He steals girls like you.”

Still, Audrey sets out for her revenge, “bedeviling” this man or that one, twisting the knife in the wounds in families that have suffered loss, taunting men who have been “spreading sweat over fields that’ll never sprout.”

Reynolds gives Audrey a mean girl leer to go with her ballerina pretty looks. But the havoc her character wreaks is pretty tame, or at least over-familiar — livestock atrocities, suicides, problem pregnancies.

The preacher (Sean McGinley) is more sturdy than stirring in the face of this existential threat that only the most manic in the congregation can identify. And the “manic” aren’t as worked up as you might expect, either.

Nobody takes action, decisive or otherwise, against the threat. Congregants just curl up into their family units and debate whether to reach “outside” the community (to the 20th century) and otherwise accept their fate as some sort of supernatural will.

Could it be maybe “Satan” you think? Sure. That word never turns up, nor does “witch” or “coven.”

Lee was aiming for something on the order of “The Witch” — understated, with unsophisticated people dealing with something extraordinary and evil in their midst.

But he wasted all this effort on a prologue (the Church of Ireland, 1873-1973 colony business), made everybody sling an Irish accent after 100 isolated and away from Ireland, and then didn’t make his people of faith being tested all that pious.

The performances are flat, drained of anything you’d call a spark.

So forgive me for going back to the beginning of the review and re-asking the obvious. Is there a point?

MPAA Rating: unrated, bloody violence, profanity

Cast: Jessica Reynolds, Catherine Walker, Jared Abrahamson, Sean McGinley, Hannah Emily Anderson.

Credits: Written and directed by Thomas Robert Lee. An Epic release.

Running time: 1:34

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